Somehow, what I thought was a draft of this post got caught up in the WordPress revamp and hit the public tag feed, although it’s listed on my site as “unpublished.” Undoubtedly this is user error on my part, but it forces my hand a bit. So I’ve change the tag to “published,” and will take the hits for some unfinished thinking. 😉
As a card-carrying, left-of-center individual, it seems both reasonable and desirable to embrace the doctrines of openness and sharing that are so widely appreciated in the world of technology and education. And yet my recent experience with the open, open, open course Connectivism and Connective Knowledge left me with some surprising reservations. Not about the concept, but about the recognition of cultural or generational differences in how this is perceived, and what this might mean for learning.
One feature of the CCK08 experience was relatively limited participation numbers in the open (public and archived) CCK08 forums and discussions when compared to those who registered interest. Why? Only the research will tell, and folks are really busy. But I have one other observation.
One of my least favorite parenthood activities is sitting through a kids’ recital where it’s obvious that some of the musicians haven’t practiced, and that some don’t even want to be there. (And these are not necessarily one and the same.) I know there’s a school of thought that says this is a character-building experience, but there are days when I find it disrespectful of both the child… and the audience. Given a choice beyond obligation and politeness, some from both groups surely would not be there. And I’m quite sure that this situation does not foster inspired musicians. Does this relate to CCK08?
Why, you might ask, are we doing this course in a closed fashion? Well, I also happen to think that forcing people to work in the open without a clear sense of the implication of that action is also unfair. If people choose to blog and refer us to that work by using the course tag, and, maybe, referring to it in the blog posts… then that’s great. If they choose, for any number of reasons, that they prefer to keep all their work to themselves, that is also their choice. I don’t think its a good choice, i think that work shared is more valuable and more likely to come back to you better than when you started… I think that the best knowledge is created in an interaction… a ‘public PLE’ but that is not for me to decide for someone else.
This seems to be a pretty significant idea as we work through the complexity of digital learning and communication. The emphasis on sharing and openness is indeed a huge opportunity for learning and even humanity as whole.
But there seems to be a bit of a culture gap that we need to keep in mind– perhaps it is that of the digital immigrants, or Gen X (which has been identified as a possible digital transition group, and to which I admit being a member), or simply a cross-section of digital newbies, for reasons of poverty or access, or even choice.
Because while it seems like openness and sharing from one side of the digital divide, I’m hearing that it can feel an awful lot like forced public performance on the other.
Recognizing this, I wonder if, as “open” courses become more common, they need to offer (or continue to offer) a middle ground, an opportunity to practice skills and master new material and ideas — a learning double whammy– without the (if only imagined) potential for vast public scrutiny and the threat of digital foreverness, as Emerging Tech does. True, not everyone understands or cares about this. But there are some potential participants who may have some adaptive wisdom and an interest in bridging the cultural gap, and who need a leg up. Some of them might even be current teachers, many of whom have a strong tradition of being focused on having the “right” answer in public.
Perhaps there is at least an interim need to understand that various levels of openness might not be comfortable for every learner — and the brain research clearly shows that folks don’t learn well with a sense of fear or anxiety. If life-long learning is the goal, then just telling digital immigrant learners to “toughen up” isn’t really the kind of anxiety-reducing nurture that supports that learning. And it seems counterproductive if the goal is to bring digital immigrants into the fold so they can grasp the vast implications of digital education for the “natives.”
And maybe some of this applies to digital natives as well. As a parent, I need to balance trust with the recognition that kids don’t always have the knowledge or maturity to be making legacy-oriented decisions on their own. (And speaking digitally, sometimes other adults in their lives don’t, either; they simply haven’t had time to “catch up” enough to offer good advice or understand the contexts.) That’s why the ecology of learning at our house says that if you’re going to perform, you practice. Some of it is actually practice in improvisation, which might seem oxymoronic, but is not. And this goes for music, digital engagement, and a number of other situations.
Yes, there needs to be a feedback cycle for learning. But different learners have different comfort levels about exposure during this cycle. Yes, at some point, serious musicians have to perform without a net. And yes, sooner rather than later may help to develop the skills of resilience; coping with and overcoming a bad showing is part of learning.
But I have a niggling worry that in some cases, openness and required sharing might be inadvertently counterproductive. Many digital learners, depending on their skills or exposure, can adjust, ignore, or make end runs around this, but those who are new may perceive their position as having to choose between playing on unfriendly turf, or not playing at all. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to offer a choice of fig leaves… there’s a historic precedent, I hear. And maybe more awareness of and options for selective levels of privacy would help eliminate what is often perceived as the scourge of anonymity.
On the other hand, “closed” courses are easily found, so maybe these are the training ground for more exposed levels of open learning.
Ironically, this understanding/perception was probably not something I would have developed without the open, open, openness of CCK08. And that very openness is what made the course a testing ground for the theory it explored. So this is not intended as retroactive criticism; instead, it’s a thought for the future.
Digital openness meets psychological and cultural habits and understandings; now there’s some complexity for you.